Reading, writing, friendship – and love…?

John Walford reads at the York Spoken Word open mic night. Photograph: Rose Drew
30 Aug 2013 @ 8.56 am
| News
John Walford reads at the York Spoken Word open mic night. Photograph: Rose Drew
John Walford reads at the York Spoken Word open mic night. Photograph: Rose Drew

rose-drew-headshotRose Drew reveals the story behind an event where writers and readers can bond over poetry, prose and a pint – and even fall in love…


Looking for a place to read your work in York? If so, around 7 pm on the first Tuesday of each month, head to the Exhibition Hotel, make your way to the conservatory, and find a seat. A long-running poetry and prose open mic is about to start.

In the well-lit, tchotchke-filled back room, poets and other writers – and those who enjoy listening to literature – gather each month, sign up if they want to, and stake a claim at one of the tables.

People start settling in after 7pm. As 7.30 approaches, there are last minute dashes to the bar, quick hellos to friends, and rustling pages.

Soon, Alan Gillott or I stand up and says “Good evening! And welcome to The Spoken Word!” And next Tuesday, September 3, for the 93rd month in a row, the open mic will get underway.

The Ex, as it’s locally known, is a cool venue with generous proprietors who don’t charge us room hire, so we don’t charge entry. They’ve been known to offer out platters of chips, on the house: they enjoy that “art” happens in their hotel.

And it’s good art. In 2008, our poetry and prose anthology, The Exhibitionists (Stairwell Books), created from material submitted by our regulars, made the top ten in the Purple Patch list of small press anthologies.

We’ve become quite accustomed to a First Tuesday signifying poetry and prose. Our open mic in Connecticut, which was only poetry (prose made some regulars quite sniffy!) met from March 2003 onward and outlasted us after we left for England in August 2005.

When we arrived that summer, determined to find local mics and “just be audience” we quickly realised –

  • one: right then, no regular poetry open mics met in York;
  • and two: we missed hosting.

By September, I had finagled two slots at the Fifty Plus Festival’s poetry evening (age 45 in my case, but they took pity on me); by October, I’d found three different writing workshops and had announced York needed an open mic; by November, we were planning a monthly event with two other people. December: venue selected. January: we…

Well, things happen: the other organisers preferred to run it themselves. We discovered a fall-back room, met there January and February, and for the first Tuesday in March 2006, had found a new home at the Exhibition Hotel. Nobody said it would be easy!

Like all new events, we had slow nights and busy ones; The Spoken Word started to take off after about a year. The other open mic, which the other organisers had envisaged offering everything from comedy to juggling and in between, also went from strength to strength.

They also had a monthly featured guest, which we’d wanted to avoid after years of featured readers in Connecticut. Besides, York’s a big village, or a small city, and certainly handles multiple music open mics, several writing workshops (including the prestigious York Writers) and two to even four poetry / prose / comedy / music open mics.

Each event has its own flavour, with regular readers often going to two or more a month: useful if you’ve had a spate of creativity. It’s even better than the old TV show Cheers: here, everyone knows your name, and also wants to hear what you’ve been writing.

For both Alan and myself, poetry is one of the main fabrics of our lives: we met at an open mic (flirting once a month for about a year), and had a first date, and our second date, at a very prestigious weekly open mic.

By the third week, “our” mic, where we’d met, came along again. Within a month, in other words (and amongst words) we were both hooked. Falling in love at a monthly lit event has much to offer.

You don’t faff around at expensive restaurants, pretending to be nicer, smarter or richer than you are: if you’re the confessional-type of poet, like me (like many Americans), well, Alan knew who I was. And I knew what interested or inspired or outraged him, too. Quite an honest series of monthly ‘dates’ we had in the end.

Within months, Alan had noted that a new Borders Bookstore (RIP) was planning to open a few miles from my house; did we want to organise our own event, as “our” mic was winding down?

And so, March 2003 we launched… and never stopped. Running an open mic for this many years takes commitment, insanity or perhaps just an otherwise empty life…

Now, ten years on, missing only four months between countries and the odd first Tuesday when we’re away (guest hosts compering), we’d love to welcome you to the York Spoken Word.

Head over on September 3, or join us in October. Or November. Arrive early; the tables fill quickly, though we can cram in quite a few bar stools.

Please leave us your email so we can send you our monthly reminder. Sign up for your four to five minute slot, and sit back, ready to be dazzled by some of the finest short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry, excerpts from novels, that we are privileged to enjoy.

Come to listen, have a pint, and a bite of bar food. Come any first Tuesday you can. I’m pretty sure we’ll be here.